Between Tradition and Innovation

I’m so excited to start spring semester at tribal college! I’m taking 21 credits this spring in order to graduate in May and take police skills (like police academy) for six weeks thereafter. Plans are in place with more goals to achieve in 2024, but just half a year ago, things were far from certain.

When standing at a crossroads in your educational journey, the options can seem overwhelming. Traditional universities, community colleges, vocational schools—each path promises something different, but none quite capture the unique blend of academic excellence and cultural grounding offered by tribal colleges.

Tribal colleges hold a special significance. More than just educational institutions, they are vibrant hubs of community, cultural revitalization, and academic empowerment. Stepping onto a tribal college campus is like stepping into a rich tapestry woven from ancestral knowledge, contemporary challenges, and unwavering resilience.

Here are just a few reasons why attending a tribal college might be the perfect path for you:

  • Connect with Your Heritage: Immerse yourself in the language, traditions, and stories of your ancestors. Tribal colleges offer courses in tribal history, governance, and cultural arts, taught by knowledgeable elders and community leaders. These classes aren’t just academic exercises; they’re opportunities to reconnect with your roots and discover the richness of your heritage. My tribal college also provides short, non-credit courses in traditional arts like sewing ribbon skirts or beading earrings in order to pass on the traditional teachings to future generations.
  • Small Class Sizes, Big Support: Forget the anonymity of large lecture halls. Tribal colleges prioritize small class sizes, fostering a close-knit community where professors know your name and are invested in your success. You’ll receive personalized attention, academic support, and mentorship that caters to your individual needs and learning styles.
  • Culturally Relevant Curriculum: Tribal colleges integrate Indigenous knowledge systems and perspectives into their curriculum. This means your education won’t be confined to Eurocentric narratives; you’ll learn about science, math, and history through the lens of your own culture, gaining a deeper understanding of the world and your place within it. For example, there’s a tribal college that teaches “Ojibwe Mathematics.”
  • Strong Community Ties: Tribal colleges aren’t just islands of learning; they’re integral parts of their communities. You’ll have opportunities to volunteer, intern, and collaborate with tribal organizations, businesses, and government agencies. This real-world experience puts your education into practice and prepares you to be a leader and changemaker within your community. There’s a radio station across the road from my tribal college where students can serve an internship and gain real work experience.
  • Financial Aid and Scholarships: Tribal colleges are committed to making higher education accessible to all. They offer generous financial aid packages, scholarships, and grants specifically for Native American students, making your dream of a college education a tangible reality. Without the assistance offered by my tribal college, studying law enforcement would have been impossible for me.
  • Celebrating Identity: At a tribal college, you’ll be surrounded by peers who share your heritage and experiences. This creates a safe space where you can celebrate your identity, express yourself freely, and build lifelong friendships with people who understand your unique journey.

Attending a tribal college isn’t just about getting a degree; it’s about reclaiming your voice, rediscovering your roots, and shaping your future as a proud member of your culture. It’s about becoming a bridge between tradition and innovation, carrying the wisdom of your ancestors into the modern world.

So, if you’re looking for an education that’s more than just textbooks and exams, an education that nourishes your mind, spirit, and community, then consider taking the path less traveled. Consider a tribal college. It might just be the perfect place for you to find your roots and spread your wings. The motto on my tribal college webpage is “Come Find Your Place.”

Remember, your journey is unique, and your path to success is yours to define. Choose an educational experience that empowers you, celebrates your heritage, and prepares you to lead the way for your culture and future generations.

Rachel Peterman, JD, is a student at Leech Lake Tribal College.

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